Lawsuit Seeks to Protect New York Waters from Ballast Water Invaders

The State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation sued for failing to adequately protect state waters against aquatic invasive species from ballast water discharges.

11-08-2012 // Jordan Lubetkin

The National Wildlife Federation today sued the State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation for failing to adequately protect state waters, including the Great Lakes, against aquatic invasive species from ballast water discharges. Such invaders have disrupted the ecosystem of New York waters from top to bottom and cause more than $200 million per year in damages and control costs across the Great Lakes.

The state is leaving the door open to future invasions that hurt New York’s fish, wildlife and economy,” said Marc Smith, senior policy manager with the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office. “We’re filing this lawsuit to force New York to protect its water quality and the water quality of the Great Lakes.”

The lawsuit, filed with the New York Supreme Court for Albany County, marks a huge break from the past for New York. The state not long ago had been hailed by conservation leaders as exemplary in its defense of water quality standards against invasive species—having put forward some of the strongest ballast water protections in the country. Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state has severely weakened protections, leading to the lawsuit today.

“New York has gone 180 degrees—from a leader in protecting water quality to defending an inadequate status quo,” said Smith. “The state needs to go back to the drawing board and protect its waters and the Great Lakes.”

"All ships traveling into any of the Great Lakes must first pass through New York," said Katherine Nadeau, water and natural resources program director for Environmental Advocates of New York.  "By imposing responsible standards that force shippers to step up, we can effectively prevent new species from threatening our water quality, our businesses, and our recreation opportunities both in-state and throughout the Great Lakes Basin."

The lawsuit stems from New York’s certification of ballast water protections put forward by the U.S. EPA. After a long court battle, the federal agency was forced to issue a ballast water permit under the Clean Water Act to protect U.S. water quality from non-native aquatic species—biological pollution that lives, reproduces and spreads.

The permit—the Vessel General Permit—allows vessels entering the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters to discharge a set concentration of non-native organisms. But even EPA concedes that a reasonable potential of new invasions still exists. As a result, the permit – and New York’s certification of the permit – will not protect water quality. The National Wildlife Federation and other conservation groups are urging the EPA to strengthen its permit—and taking action against states that certify the flawed permit. Similar lawsuits are pending in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“It’s high time that the nation slam the door on ballast water invaders,” said Smith. “The U.S. EPA has failed to address the problem, and we will not sit back and let states rubber stamp the agency’s flawed permit. We have no other option but to challenge this in court to defend New York’s water quality.”

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